The most common phrase heading into two road games in Spokane and Tri-City was "measuring stick weekend". After all, the Blazers were heading into Spokane (9-1 at home) and Tri-City - the top team in the Western Conference and 3rd ranked team in the Nation if you choose to put stock in the weekly CHL Top 10. It was built as an opportunity to see how much progress the team has made this season after a strong start.
The Blazers hadn't won in Spokane since November 2008, and haven't escaped Tri-City with two points since December 2008. While the winless streak in Tri-City will continue following a 3-2 OT loss, the Blazers 2-1 win in Spokane at least gave the Blazers a chance for a perfect weekend south of the border heading into the contest against the Americans.
Saturday night the Americans came out hard as expected and controlled the first period. A 5-on-3 PP goal from Adam Hughesman was followed 30 seconds later with a breakaway goal from Malte Stromwall after a gaffe from D Bronson Maschmeyer. The Blazers found their game in the 2nd period but didn't gain any ground on the Americans two-goal lead. A Chase Schaber PP goal early in the 3rd period brought the Blazers within one. A Matt Needham shot from the left side boards deflected in with just over six minutes to play to even the game 2-2.
The Blazers had to kill a late penalty with 2:58 to play which sent the game to overtime. OT started 3-on-3 because of coincidental penalties to Maschmeyer and Mason Wilgosh at 19:57 of the 3rd. As expected, the teams never got back to 4-on-4 as Justin Feser scored on a rebound after an Americans 2-on-1 with Feser and Derek Ryckman.
Goaltender Cole Cheveldave was especially solid in both games this weekend. He made sure the Blazer deficit stayed at 2-0 vs Tri-City. He allowed his team the comeback bid, even if the Blazers did have to settle for the single point.
I caught up with F Dylan Willick after the two-game swing. For the most part he thinks they accomplished what they set out to do.
Willick1 by keen941
As for settling for three out of a possible four points?
Willick2 by keen941
The Blazers had Sunday off after arriving back in Kamloops just after 7am from Kennewick, WA. They now get set for three home games this weekend beginning with the defending Ed Chynoweth Cup Champion Kootenay Ice Wednesday night.
The Ice will be playing their fourth game of a BC swing. They've started with a pair of wins in Victoria (8-3) and Vancouver (4-1). The Ice play in Prince George Tuesday before visiting Kamloops the next night.
Here's what else is on my mind today......
“Too long of layoff is an excuse. We worked hard all week, come into the game and we don’t work. We stand around and watch. We did not skate. The bottom line with our hockey team is we’re not a hard-working team, we’re a lazy team. We played lazy.”
- Spokane is a good team even if they're missing offensive catalysts Tyler Johnson and Levko Koper from last season. Spokane will have a chance to win in their building every night though, and that's saying a lot with division rivals Portland and Tri-City in their division.
- Friday's win was especially sweet for G Cole Cheveldave. Cheveldave attended Chiefs training camp twice as a 15 and 16 year-old after they listed him following the 2008 bantam draft. In may not be as simple as saying they chose G Mac Engel over him, but that's the way it shakes out. Engel has proven to be a capable 'tender in this league as well. His coming out party was last year when starter James Reid got injured in the 2nd half. Engel used the opportunity to be named the WHL goaltender of the month back in February.
-While we're on the topic...has Cheveldave turned into the go-to guy for the Blazers between the pipes? Head Coach Guy Charron was asked that question Saturday night in our post-game show following back-to-back starts from the 18 year-old 'tender. Guy doesn't want to put labels on #1 or #2. He fully expects to use both goaltenders in crucial games heading into the Christmas break.
- WHL fight fans are gonna love this story from the weekend..... I talked to Blazer D Josh Caron following his heavyweight scrap with the Chiefs Darren Kramer. You can watch that scrap here - Caron vs Kramer
During warm-ups Caron and Kramer exchanged words by the bench. Kramer asked Caron if it was going to be round two with Chiefs D Cobin Baldwin tonight (following their epic center-ice tilt in Kamloops last month). Josh replied "nope, this time I want you." Kramer eventually agreed...but on his terms. Josh wanted it right off the hop...but Kramer wanted to pick his spot. I guess they met somewhere in the middle as they shed their gear in the 2nd period. Ironically, the fight wasn't included in the highlights package posted later on the Chiefs website. They did however show Steve Kuhn and Colin Smith's tilt. It turned out to be a one-sided affair in Kuhn's affair.
- WHL broadcasters are all homers, it's part of the job. It's a word that doesn't offend me in the least. The homerism gets turned up seven notches during a scrap.
- It's the tough guys in the league I respect the most. Imagine dropping your gloves and skating to center-ice in front of 5000 people. Theses guys put their pride and reputation on the line. Further to my chat with Caron...He also told me there's nothing like it. Nothing compares to the feeling he gets when he squares-off with someone at center-ice and he feels the energy in the building rise all around him. It's especially true in the U.S. markets where fans go bananas for that action.
I wrapped up our interview wishing him luck finding his way down...."thank-you I'll try, but if I don't make it please come look for me." Guy is an easy guy to root for.
- It was good to catch-up with Regina Pats broadcaster Dan Plaster Thursday night in downtown Spokane. The Pats travelled through the night departing Wednesday at midnight. They stopped in Cranbrook for a morning practice and then continued on from there. Dan is always up for some fun. Good guy. He's in his 2nd year with the Pats but we go back all the way to the late 90's when we were both in Lethbridge together. Dan has come a long ways in his short time in the WHL. It's scary to think how good he could get at calling games.
- A lot of things impressed me in Tri-City Saturday night. First and foremost the atmosphere was electric thanks to over 5400 packed into the Toyota Center. It was certainly the largest crowd I've seen in my seven or eight visits in my time. It's loud, and the fans are into it.
- Americans F Patrick Holland controlled the game each time he was on the ice. Often rushing the puck up ice and through two or three players. Poise is a word that best describes the 19 year-old.
- I was given a celebratory cupcake Saturday in honor of Craig West calling his 1000th game with the Americans earlier this month. I later tweeted "I just had a celebratory cupcake in honor of Craig West...it tasted dry and sarcastic". I told Westie later, he loved it. He used on his facebook status later in the evening and followed it up by saying "Kamloops is the most improved team I've seen so far".
- A reminder of our 2nd edition of Blazer Hockey Talk coming up Thursday night on Radio NL. We are still finalizing guests. We will hit the airwaves around 5:30pm. I should know our line-up in the next day or two. You can get a question or comment to us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send me a tweet @JonKeenNLSports.
- The Blazers just missed an earthquake by a few hours in Northern Washington and the South Okanagan on their way south. It was measured at 4.6. The Blazers passed through the epicenter of the quake about 12 hours before it happened.
- The Blazers practiced in Osoyoos Thursday morning. It was nice to break up the trip to Spokane by stopping in such a nice place. Thanks to KIJHL Osoyoos Coyotes owner Randy Bedard for the hospitality. Randy has a radio background and calls the road games too. They're trying to make a go of it in Osoyoos and it sounds like the 2nd year Junior "B" franchise is more than holding its own. This after a league championship in their first season.